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Rice vs. Wheat: Why Strategic Outbound Sales is Different Than Cold Calling

In Malcolm Gladwell’s bestselling book, Outliers: The Story of Success, he accounts the fascinating history of rice paddy farming in Southern China. Unlike Western crops like wheat that rely on weather and equipment, rice requires complex irrigation systems, collaboration with neighboring farmers, and strategic effort. 

While Gladwell’s lesson speaks to the cultural differences between individualistic and cooperative groups and how they’ve impacted future generations, we couldn’t help but think about how rice farming is a lot like sales prospecting – when it’s done right.  

When you hear the word “outbound sales, it may seem synonymous to cold calling. You may picture busy call centers full of inexperienced sales reps who don’t understand the offering, or perhaps you picture your own sales team making endless calls and leaving voicemails for contacts who may not even be the right decision maker. 

Outbound sales has gotten a bad rap in recent years because, most of the time, it’s treated as a wheat farm – you drop the seeds as widely as you can and hope for the best. However, true Strategic Outbound Sales should function more like a rice paddy -- “It all depends on hard work and fertilizer. 

Here are a few direct ways to take your sales strategy from a wheat farm to a rice paddy with a Strategic Outbound Sales approach: 

1. A complex system with a strong foundation 

“Rice paddies are ‘built,’ not ‘opened up’ the way a wheat field is. You don’t just clear the trees, underbrush, and stones and then plow...A rice paddy has to be irrigated, so a complex system of dikes has to be built around the field.”  

B2B sales can be complex, especially when you’re dealing with a high-priced offering, executive decision-makers, and long sales cycles. Thus, Strategic Outbound requires building the initial infrastructure and providing your team with the right sales enablement tools before they jump on the phones.  

At MarketLauncher, we use market research at the top of the funnel to keep our outreach focused on the right decision-makers at the right organizations. We also recommend setting up your CRM ahead of time with dashboards and deal pipelines to track progress, as well as workflows to automate sales tasks. And, don’t forget to establish strong messaging guidelines so your sales reps will speak the same language. 

2. An exacting process  

“It’s very exacting...[Rice farmers] had to be careful, because too much fertilizer, or the right amount applied at the wrong time, could be as bad as too little.” 

Similarly, a Strategic Outbound Sales approach requires a delicate balance of just the right outreach, at the right time, with the right person, and using the right message. Once you’ve made initial touchpoints to make sure the prospect is qualified, keep nurturing the conversation over phone and email, and use what you learn in each interaction to inform the next. This is where a well-aligned marketing team comes in, equipping you with engaging content to push the prospect closer to a serious conversation.   

3. Improve your yield by working smarter 

“Rice farmers improved their yields by becoming smarter, by being better managers of their own time, and by making better choices...Rice agriculture is skill-oriented.”  

Rice farmers yielded better crops every season because they learned lessons along the way and made changes to their exacting process when needed. Your sales team must have the skills to pivot quickly when needs arise and position themselves as subject-matter experts. Drastic unforeseen events (like a global pandemic) can sweep entire industries, while other shifts occur slowly at the company or decision-maker level. 

This is where the importance of data comes in. Your CRM unlocks data insights that allow you to spot trends across conversations, buyer personas, and industries. You can see how prospects react to specific messages so you can tweak them as you go. 

Much like rice farmers who had to cooperate with neighbors to share irrigation systems, your sales team should also collaborate frequently and share insights that can inform the larger strategy. All the while, you’ll refine your approach and work smarter with every conversation. 

4. Smaller farm, greater harvest 

“The typical rice paddy is about as big as a hotel room...A village in China of fifteen hundred people might support itself entirely with 450 acres of land, which in the American Midwest would be about the size of a typical family farm.”  

Those are staggering numbers, but not unlike what we see in common outbound efforts. Just as a wheat farmer tries to increase their crop by plowing more land with bigger and better equipment, sales teams often try to approach thousands of inbound leads with automation tools that strip their outreach of any human connection. The result is a pipeline of prospects that grows very slowly and is full of unqualified leads.  

That’s not to say that automation should be avoided. HubSpot Sales Hub allows us to automate certain sales tasks to give more time back for personal connections with the right prospects. Rather than seeking out ways to sell faster or build a bigger list of leads, focus on the quality of the leads you have and on nurturing a healthy pipeline that will yield more valuable opportunities in the end.  

Outbound sales is nothing to shy away from – you just need to change the way you think about it.  MarketLauncher has been doing this for nearly two decades, and we recognize the need to give outbound a new definition.

Strategic Outbound Sales is a data-backed approach to build a foundation of qualified opportunities, nurture them with personalized outreach, and track engagement across industries and audiences.  

Much like rice farming, Strategic Outbound Sales requires hard work, flexibility, and a willingness to learn and develop new skills. The result is an abundant sales pipeline and a proven process that grows better with time.  


Strategic Outbound Infographic

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Lara S. Triozzi
Lara S. Triozzi
As the CEO of MarketLauncher, Lara is the visionary who gets clients and team members excited about what can be and then finds ways to make it happen. Lara has always had a talent for designing new business strategies, from the fledgling start-up ad agency she joined right out of college to an opportunity to help launch Inc. Magazine’s CEO peer groups on a national scale.

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